Page 45 Review by Stephen
"But just as I'm trying to focus and push my worries about Peter Grimm's suspicions out of my head, a face in the crowd jumps out at me...
"And then mine jumps out at her.
"And everything falls to pieces."
Hair-tearingly tense espionage thriller deftly conducted by the creators of CRIMINAL, THE FADE OUT, KILL OR BE KILLED, THE SCENE OF THE CRIME plus the noir-horror hybrid FATALE, this doesn't just avoid the pothole cop-outs of most superhero tales when it comes to crime and consequence, it pole-vaults over them and plunges the protagonist into a world where there's no soothing alternative to ruthless expediency.
Field agent Holden Carver was sent deep undercover just before his boss was sent deep into a coma.
Unfortunately a) the cover in question is as hired thuggery for Tao, a ruthless powerbroker who is preternaturally perceptive, b) his comatose boss, John Lynch, was the only one who knew he'd been sent undercover so c) there's no one around to extract him. With no light at the end of the tunnel that doesn't turn out to be a train, Carver's only option is to complete the missions for the slime he now works for without killing his conscience or his former friends who now think he's defected. Not a lot of recourse, there.
Carver has to convince one of the most astute manipulators on the planet that he has sincerely switched sides and isn't a double-agent; he has to earn and maintain the trust of his new, vicious and suspicious peers; he cannot forewarn his former cohorts of what's up to (they'd never believe him anyway), so he must somehow either sabotage some of the assignments whilst making it look like someone else's fault, or carry them out correctly without killing too many innocents, and hope that the results don't tip the scales irreversibly in the terrorists' favour.
How many innocents can Holden kill before the total begins to chime with his moral concept of "too many"? What happens when he's sent up against the love of his life and her new husband? And how long can he keep this up before his new boss discovers the truth, Carver gives up completely or - worse still - throws in with the other side? He has, after all, made friends in that camp.
Sean Phillips's intense, brooding, twilight pages are full of a palpable sense of foreboding, on which anything can come round the corner, and because so many faces are cast in half-shadow, no one's at all sure what the others are really thinking. This includes the reader. I found myself so successfully immersed in this deadly, murky and often angry arena that I was fretting throughout and trying to peer round corners and up flights of stairs on Carver's behalf. I actually angled my head!
Best of all, while his visual storytelling is so fluent and fluid, he's also as brutally solid as anyone else, seen here - 15 years ago - with more jaggedly angular faces than we're used to by now, perfect for people this raw. He hasn't yet settled on the three-tiered grid as seen in the books above; instead the panels cascade down over the background, and that contributes a more disorientating, action-driven tension.
Meanwhile, Brubaker's tour de force here lies not only in the plotting, but in the internal monologues wherein Holden Carver attempts to justify his actions to himself, wriggle his way out of inconsistencies and uncover as much as he can, whilst staying alive - albeit battered - in the process. Wrestling to make the right choices isn't easy, either, right up until the last minute.
Along the way there are some very funny superhero origin parodies, and you'll love Ms. Misery for whom happiness is a life-threatening disease.
Lastly, prepare yourself for the most excruciatingly ironic final few pages while you wait for the second half. It should be noted that we were never guaranteed its second season, so it could all have ended here.
Never argue with the woman serving you at the bar!
"And who said I wasn't already post-human? You guys always assume just 'cuz I'm tending bar that I'm normal..."
"Oh really, so what are your powers?"
"Honey, I get better looking every drink."
The prologue to Brubaker and Phillips' SLEEPER, I found a second reading of POINT BLANK infinitely more enjoyable for having since relished the nail-biting noir of the main series itself. I own, however, that they are on two completely different levels. SLEEPER is the mature, fully formed Brubaker you know now, operating in his own theatre on creations that are almost all his; POINT BLANK is him negotiating his way there, having to use characters which - other than the lead and chief antagonist - really don't suit him. It's good but not great, so DC's decision to repackage it at the front of this book comes with the warning that you should please not judge the main meal by its entrée.
Cole Cash is drinking at a bar.
He really doesn't want to be there, but he made his old colleague a promise, so here he is. His old colleague is John Lynch, former head of International Operations, the Wildstorm universe's covert anti-terrorism organisation. But Lynch is late and something's not right. For a start, Lynch is never late - that's usually Cash. But it's not just that: he hears echoes of a past conversation he can't place.
It's as if Cole's forgotten something...
As Cole tries to recall the last several nights, some bits come back easier than others: Lynch on the trail of someone called Carver, erasing the memories of those he catches up with in case they recall the encounter. But when he finally quits the bar to investigate, he finds Lynch shot and deep in a coma. No one can get the drop on Lynch - probably not even Cash - it's how he's survived all these decades in the most dangerous job on the planet.
So who finally did the job, who is this Holden Carver and why was Lynch so desperate to find him? Ah, now you see why I mean about hindsight!
As Cash delves deeper, he gradually realises that he's running the very real risk of buggering up the biggest subterfuge of them all, but nothing will prepare him for the final blow.
Set on the periphery of the Wildstorm Universe, there are very few capes. Oh wait, there's The Midnighter from THE AUTHORITY, but then that black leather costume to him is just casual clothing. It's what Brubaker does better than anyone else: genre-splicing action / espionage with powers.
Colin Wilson provides decidedly European-style art (I know, I know, that's a sweeping generalisation) which manages to be both exceptionally clean yet rugged at the same time. I'd probably classify it as "cinematic, ne'er do well chic".